Mental Health Awareness Week begins on May 16th until May 22nd and this year the focus is on relationships. Our mental health and mental wellbeing are integral to leading a healthy and balanced life but are often neglected as we rush around. Between work, social outings and, of course, sitting staring at our phone screens, we often feel that we never have enough time to be with our loved ones. Despite being more connected than ever, we spend more time looking at people online than we do with the people sitting opposite us. I’m sure you have all had a similar experience: you are having a meal with your friends/ family/ partner etc., and everyone is on their phone, ignoring each other or occasionally pausing to take a selfie or a photo of their food. I’ve found myself both on the receiving end of this rather rude treatment as well as being the guilty party; we can’t bear to put our phones down for five minutes less we miss something “important” or because we have the need to photograph everything we come in to contact with over the course of an evening.
Relationships are a key aspect of our lives, whether that’s with a partner, our parents, friends or work colleagues; having positive relationships with others boosts our mental well-being, self-esteem and enriches our personalities. Negative relationships, however, can have an equally imposing effect on our lives, often devastating our sense of self, causing depression and anxiety as well as having a direct impact on our other relationships. I am able to admit that I have struggled with depression and anxiety for a number of years and the way I have felt and subsequently behaved has had irreversible consequences on previous relationships. At my worst, I have shut out my entire family and all of my friends, turning my phone off and avoiding the internet so that I could be totally unreachable. When you live with someone it’s a bit more difficult, but I basically retreated into a self-hating bed bug that couldn’t communicate how I felt without crying and getting stuck in a constant loop of making self-degrading comments. My partner found it incredibly difficult to deal with and eventually had to stop asking me how I was or how he could help because neither of us could get on the same page, which obviously made me feel even worse. Not that I blame him or anyone else for not speaking to me; as humans, we deliberately avoid negative situations and some people just can’t handle having the same, repetitive conversations with people day-in, day-out, as their friend constantly seeks reassurance and affirmation that you do like them/ they aren’t fat/ no one is staring at them etc.
It’s a bloody nightmare for everyone involved, basically.
As a nation, we still keep dropping the ball with mental health. Quality of service seems to be a bit of a postcode lottery and working-age men from some of our most deprived areas are most at risk of committing suicide than any other demographic. There are a plethora of reasons why someone would make the decision to end their own life and often communication and relationship breakdowns are citied amongst the most common reasons. Monogamous relationships or not, humans are social animals and loneliness can have a devastating impact on our perception of the world. I have never felt as alone as I do in this modern age of connection; at work, there may be four or five of us in the break room and none of us will be speaking, eyes glued to our mobiles. Other times, I could be looking at the Facebook pages of my closest friends, a mere message away, and I can’t even bring myself to do so because of my own anxiety; I am often trapped in a vicious cycle of “Why haven’t they bothered to message me? Why must I do all the work?” which inevitably leads to “Maybe I’m the problem – I don’t try hard enough/ I’m a terrible friend” etc.
It is well known that working as a “team” allows us to flourish; whether that’s a husband or wife “team” that helps each other lose weight or stop smoking, or a “team” of colleagues that pull together and help one another to make the shift productive and enjoyable, rather than letting the stress of daily life eat away at every area of their being. It is important to surround ourselves with people we know will actively listen to us, be as non-judgemental as possible and that are present with us; even if it is a long distance friend whom you Skype every weekend, it is important to be with people who make time for you in “real” life, even if you are part of a very active group chat. It’s also important to remember, however, that our friends and family can often spot unhealthy relationships before we do and we have to be mindful when informing someone of, say, their partners infidelity or poor choice of friend; we can sound meddling and intrusive when really we are usually trying to help. On the other hand, when receiving such news or an opinion, we have to try and see the other persons point of view rather than jumping on the defence; most people wouldn’t say something worrisome about your partner if they didn’t have a good reason.
In support of the campaign, the Mental Health Foundation is asking us to make a #RelationshipResolution, such as calling your loved ones more often or simply putting your phone down when in other’s company. My resolution is something a bit more personal: Take compliments more seriously, particularly when they come from J. I have been in a constant state of denial about the genuineness of compliments for as long as I can remember. I always feel that the person will turn round and be like “You’re so pretty… HAHA ONLY JOKING!” and everyone will laugh and I’ll be a lonely, ugly wreck forever. Without sounding pig headed, I know that it’s absolute nonsense and that the people I surrounded myself with aren’t that disingenuous and wouldn’t be so cruel. I have cried and gotten incredibly angry when receiving compliments from J because I do not see what he sees – the joys of body dysmorphia. Dysmorphia is the complete opposite of rose tinted glasses; everything is a shambles, nothing is worthwhile and something wrong is about to happen with each passing second. It is horrendous to live with and at one point left me unable to leave the house apart from needing to go to the shops to get food because of some irrational terror I can’t quite explain. I don’t love myself yet, so still don’t handle compliments very well and am still reluctant to share selfies/ regular photos of myself as I am so fearful about what people might say or think. But I do know that I am deserving of love and compliments and to be with a handsome guy like J; I also need to acknowledge that compliments from my family are legit and I can take them seriously, not just disregard them like “oh it’s only my mum, it doesn’t count.”.
I really can’t stress enough how important it is to take care of your mental health and mental well-being. It’s all fair and well having a good job, great family, exciting social life and be a dedicated gym goer, but if you don’t take care of your mind, that can all become worthless in a heartbeat. Show your support for Mental Health Awareness week using the hashtag #MHAW16 and share your own relationship resolution.